At the end of each day of work, I look up at the blue sky and smell the aroma of the flowers as I make my way back to my apartment. On some weekends, I wander around the shore of Lake Michigan and feel the breeze blowing across the lake. I believe that the pleasant natural environment, such as the green plants and the blue sky and lake, is always a good stress reliever. However, whenever I am enjoying these gifts of nature, one question nags at my mind: What has happened to the environment back to my country?
We used to have that same blue sky and green ground when I was a little boy. Not far from my grandparents’ home, there is a river, once filled with cool and clean water. The people who lived nearby regarded the river as an important water source. The water could be pumped directly from the river and used to wash clothes and irrigate the gardens. People would swim in the river during hot summer evenings and enjoy this crisp, refreshing gift of nature. The river was also home to all kinds of aquatic wildlife. On a lucky day, you could find fish, crabs, or even small turtles when you swam in the river. When I was younger, I always dreamed of catching a turtle from that river and keeping it as a pet.
However, things were gradually getting worse. Around the beginning of the new millennium, people had become increasingly focused on widespread economic development. The environment is sacrificed to a certain degree. More and more industrial plants were built along the river, as the location not only provided a convenient source of fresh water, but it also provided a way to dispose of waste water. Over the years, some factories dumped their waste water into the river without proper treatment. Few people swam in the river anymore.
The good news is that, nowadays, China has started to realize that pursuing economic growth at the expense of the environment is not a sustainable way forward. Stringent regulations have been introduced to control the pollution. More and more small factories have been shut down because of their heavy polluting and severe damage to the environment, while the remaining ones are now required to install proper waste water treatment systems. An increasing number of public waste water treatment plants are also being built in order to reduce the levels of pollution, with the aim of restoring the river to its former self.
There is now a real reason to be optimistic: Between 2000 to 2014, the number of waste water treatment plants in cities across the country increased from 481 to 3,717. China can now process 140 million cubic meters per day, an amount that surpasses all other nations. China has spent about 20 years striving for economic development without giving too much attention to the environment. However, I believe that with this new direction China’s environment can be healed in the next decades.